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Eye movement desentitization and reprocessing in the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder: a review of an emerging therapy

  • J. SHEPHERD (a1), K. STEIN (a1) and R. MILNE (a1)
    • Published online: 01 July 2000

Background. Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a relatively new form of psychotherapy for post-traumatic stress disorder. We critically reviewed randomized controlled trials of EMDR.

Methods. A wide range of electronic databases and reference lists of articles obtained were searched and relevant experts were consulted. Studies were critically appraised according to established criteria.

Results. We found 16 published randomized controlled trials (RCTs) comparing EMDR with alternative psychotherapy treatments, variants of EMDR and with delayed treatment groups. Studies were generally small (mean number of patients = 35) and of variable methodological quality, with only five reporting blinding of outcome assessors to treatment allocation, and in some cases with high loss to follow-up.

In most cases EMDR was shown to be effective at reducing symptoms up to 3 months after treatment. In one case benefit was maintained up to 9 months and in another (uncontrolled) follow-up treatment effect was present at 15 months. Two studies suggest that EMDR is as effective as exposure therapies, three claim greater effectiveness in comparison to relaxation training, and three claim superiority over delayed treatment groups. Of the studies examining specific treatment components, two found that treatment with eyes moving was more effective than eyes fixed, while three studies found the two procedures to be of equal effectiveness.

Conclusion. The evidence in support of EMDR is of limited quality but results are encouraging for this inexpensive, simple therapy. Further research is warranted in larger samples with longer periods of follow-up.

Corresponding author
Wessex Institute for Health Research and Development, Mailpoint 728, Boldrewood, University of Southampton, Southampton SO16 7PX, UK.
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Psychological Medicine
  • ISSN: 0033-2917
  • EISSN: 1469-8978
  • URL: /core/journals/psychological-medicine
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